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Precision Feeding - Best for Cows, CAFO and Your Wallet

Jerry Bertoldo, Dairy
Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock & Field Crops

Last Modified: June 4, 2013
Precision Feeding - Best for Cows, CAFO and Your Wallet

That large fermentation vat with billions of microbes of many different types is a complex system. These rumen "bugs" are capable of turning fibrous material that has little nutritional value to simple stomached animals into a significant source of energy. However, far from a universal feed digester, the rumen has many quirks related to optimal function. This is where a precision feed concept really makes sense.

Think about the rumen as a combustion chamber or engine. The microbes, protein and carbohydrates are like the flame, fuel and the oxygen in the mechanical system. The more precise the delivery of the components - the volume, rate, ratio and mixing - the better the quality and quantity of end products. Volatile fatty acids (VFA's) and microbial protein (microbe "bodies" themselves) are the high value result of microbial growth and digestion of intake feed. Ruminants do not use carbohydrates like we do. They have to be fermented down into VFA's first. Proteins can either bypass the rumen or be changed by the microbes. Since these hard - working bugs need nitrogen in the form of peptides, urea or ammonia, some protein breakdown in the rumen is necessary to provide these.

It so happens that microbial protein is quite similar to milk protein in amino acid composition. Microbial protein yield can provide up to 60% of the cow's daily protein requirement, a good portion of which goes to produce milk. The beauty of this source of protein is that you can feed the bugs pretty basic (read cheap) sources of carbohydrates and protein (or even urea) and have them make high quality and readily available protein. Remembering the combustion chamber analogy, you have to blend the feed sources wisely to offer the rumen microbes what they need, when they need it and in the right ratios.

The issue of the other 40%-plus of the protein requirement lies more in the bypass or Rumen Undegraded Protein (RUP) category that enters the cow's mouth. Heat treated soy products are an example of commodities high in bypass protein. Added lysine and methionine in the diet is helpful in meeting the requirements for these essential amino acids. Feed stuffs vary in the amount and ratio of these key components.

The other major microbial process, fiber digestion (carbohydrates in the bigger picture) has to be considered as well. Fiber digesters are slow workers and finicky about what pH they work in. Too much starch with too little effective fiber and too little available nitrogen leads to acidosis, a pH drop, poor digestive efficiency and less quality microbial protein produced. What the bugs don't make you have to buy.

This year's growing conditions have left us with forage shortages and high feed commodity prices. The flexibility your nutritionist has to economically balance a ration that maximizes cows' digestion and makes the milk and components you are used to is under pressure. The tight margins being faced drive us to think first of controlling costs. Best cost versus least cost decisions are less palatable, but can result in reasonable returns for dollars invested. This will be a year where adding pricey amino acid analogs or record high quality protein blends might surprise you by the results. The catch is that you have to know by analysis what you are feeding, it must be mixed and delivered accurately as formulated and the basics of cow comfort have to be met to allow the animal to utilize what she eats.

Keep in mind that a cow's body condition, health and productivity are like a bank account. You can draw on it for just so long before you need replenish what was borrowed. This year will be a draw down year, but does not have to be a break the bank one.











calendar of events

Upcoming Events

Forage Congress

February 27, 2019
10:00 am - 3:30 pm
Mt. Morris, NY

  • Climate Smart Farming Decision Tools
  • Forage Quality to Reduce Purchase Concentrate Cost.  N Management, Guidelines for Grass, Low Lignin Alfalfa, Harvest Schedule
  • Fiber Digestibility & Corn Silage Hybrid Evaluation Using Fiber & Starch Yields
  • Silage Fermentation
  • Inventory & Shrink
  • Producer Panel

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MANURE APPLICATOR TRAINING - DEC Approved Training for CAFO Farms, register by 2/22/2019!

February 28, 2019
9 a.m. - 11 a.m. - Wyo Co Ag Bus Center, Warsaw and 1 p.m. - 3 p. m. Civil Def Bldg., Bath NY

This informational meeting is for all farm owners, family members, and employees who manage their farm's manure. All farms, regardless of size are encouraged to attend. This is a DEC approved Manure Applicator Training that is required for CAFO farms. A certificate will be provided to each farm that participates in the meeting. 
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Raising Healthy Livestock: The Basics of Feeding, Health, and Quality Care

March 2, 2019
10 am - 1 pm
Lockport, NY

Raising livestock can be a rewarding enterprise. There are many things to consider, including what to feed, how to keep them healthy and how to handle them. Cornell Cooperative Extension NWNY Dairy, Livestock & Field Crops Team is holding a workshop for livestock farmers to help address these topics. 
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CDL Training Program For Agricultural Producers and their Employees ONLY

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Wyoming County, in collaboration with Genesee Valley BOCES, will be offering a CDL Training Program for both Class A and Class B licenses. This course is offered to Farm Owners, Operators, and their Employees ONLY.

Thursday, February 28, 2019, 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM (Informational Meeting)
Wednesday, March 6, 2019, 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM (Classroom)
Thursday, March 7, 2019, 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM (Classroom)
Class A CDL=$ 750.00 (Enrolled in Ag Program)
Class A CDL =$ 800.00 (not enrolled in Ag Program).
Class B CDL=$ 600.00 (Enrolled in Ag Program)
Class B CDL =$ 650.00 (Not enrolled in Ag Program)
Checks payable to Cornell Cooperative Extension of Wyoming County
Held at CCE-Wyoming County., 36 Center Street, Warsaw, NY 14569

The informational meeting will be held the week before the CDL training session begins, to answer any questions you may have regarding this program and to pick up the required training materials and medical forms. To register, please contact Debra Welch at 585-786-2251 or email

Wyoming County Pride of Ag Dinner - N Java Fire hall, March 2nd

For more information about the event or to purchase tickets, please contact the Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce, 585.786.0307.

USDA to Host 2018 Farm Bill Implementation Listening Session

The listening session will be held Feb. 26, 2019 at 9:00 a.m. in the Jefferson Auditorium in the South Building located at 14th Street and Independence Ave. S.W. in Washington, D.C.

The listening session is open to the public. Participants must register at by February 22, 2019, to attend the listening session and are encouraged to provide written comments prior to the listening session. For those orally presenting comments at the listening session, written comments are encouraged to be submitted to by February 22, 2019. Additional written comments will be accepted through March 1, 2019. Comments received will be publicly available on

Three Free Digester Workshops offered through CCE St. Lawrence Co.

CCE of St. Lawrence County is offering three FREE workshops showcasing the research results from our feasibility study of anaerobic digester technology on small farms. The research was conducted by our partners at Clarkson University using the anaerobic digester at the Extension Learning Farm, which is fed both manure from a dairy operation and vegetable waste from our commercial kitchen. The digester heats a small green house that starts our seedling plants. We have a small scale vegetable-only digester as well. The research and program targets small dairies under 200 head, livestock producers, horticulture producers and anyone interested in alternative energy.

Program will be held on December 5, January 7, and March 6. A catered meal is provided at each program. Participants within the North Country Region will be given a $25 stipend to help cover travel costs, those from outside the region will be given $50. To receive the stipend, participants will need to complete a pre/post-test survey.

More information and registration information can be found here:

New Guidance for Mortality Disposal Issued

NYS Department of Ag and Markets has posted guidelines on disposal of livestock carcasses, in response to reports that some rendering companies have halted pickups from farms.|1